The Ultimate Guide to Santa Cruz Area Beaches

Posted by Lauren Spencer on Wednesday, April 24th, 2019 at 11:06am.

This may be a bit of an understatement: Santa Cruz is known as a beach town.

Although, maybe Santa Cruz should be known as a "beaches" town, given that there are so many to choose from.

Busy town beaches, long quiet stretches of sand, small secret coves - the Santa Cruz area has it all.

Not sure where to start? Well keep reading...

Here's a list of the best beaches around Santa Cruz, for whatever you need!

Natural Bridges - Natural Beauty

If you're looking to appreciate some of the natural beauty and wildlife of the California coast, then Natural Bridges State Beach is a great option.

Not only are there scenic rock formations (as the name suggests), but the adjoining park hosts migrating monarch butterflies every year in the fall and winter.

Make sure to also keep your eyes on the waves for dolphins and whales swimming by. And the nearby rock pools are also teaming with life for you to find.

Facilities here include ample parking and restrooms, and the park is easily accessible taking either Swift Street or Western Drive south off Highway 1, just west of Santa Cruz.

Capitola Beach - The Town Beach

Travel east out of Santa Cruz and in a few minutes you'll be find yourself in the heart of charming Capitola.

For a beautiful and relaxing beach-town experience, head down to the village at Capitola Beach, near the opening of Soquel Creek.

Boutique shopping and riverside eateries are the big attractions here, but you can also take in the full ocean atmosphere at Wharf House, located on the end of the Capitola Wharf.

Some great local venues for eating and drinking are:

  • Pizza My Heart
  • Britannia Arms of Capitola
  • Caruso's Tuscan Cuisine

Wilder Ranch - A Romantic View

A little further west than Natural Bridges, Wilder Ranch State Park marks the starting point of a string of beach alcoves, dotted along the coastal cliffs, hiding beneath the picturesque fields.

Trails wind their way down the hills of Wilder Ranch, and along the rugged bluffs of the coast, providing an excellent way to access the beaches while enjoying panoramic views of the ocean.

After you're done exploring the meadows and forested creeks of the park, or the historic farm, work your way down towards the sea to visit one of the (relatively) secluded beaches:

  • Fern Grotto Beach
  • Wilder Beach
  • Strawberry Beach
  • Three Mile Beach
  • Four Mile Beach

Four Mile beach is the largest, and most easily accessible, but also the furthest. Fern Grotto is smaller, and almost directly south of the park, but can be wonderfully deserted if you visit at the right time.

Its Beach - For Dogs!

Also known as Lighthouse Field State Beach, this beach is THE dog beach in Santa Cruz. You can find Its Beach just south of central Santa Cruz, on the western side of Lighthouse Point, just below a large open space on West Cliff Drive.

This beach generally has great parking, but be prepared to descend a number of steps to get down to the sand.

The shelter provided by the cliffs gives this beach a more secluded feel, but the many dogs running around will soon dispel the serenity. All things considered - not a bad trade off!

Another highlight of this beach are the rock pool creatures and other wildlife.

Its - a great beach!

Main Beach / Cowell Beach - The Surf Spot

Santa Cruz is a great surf town.

And while there are a lot of spots that are prized by the experts - like Steamer Lane - there aren't many places that are better for beginners than Santa Cruz's Main Beach AKA Cowell Beach.

Sitting just on the southwest side of the Santa Cruz Wharf, this beach offers gentle rolling waves that are perfect for longboarders.

Given the generally subdued nature of the surf at Cowell's Beach, the wind and swells don't always play along, so make sure to check the conditions before you suit up.

And when the conditions are great, you may have to contend with crowds from the local surf schools.

Want something quieter? A little more...secret?

Well then you can try to make your way to Private's Beach, an exclusive hidden surf spot between Pleasure Point and Capitola Beach, along Opal Cliffs.

Direct access to the beach is restricted by a gate, but you can also walk there along the sand at low tide.

Take care to watch the tides, and respect the locals who might be surprised to see a stranger at their not-so-secret spot.

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